Trinity Buoy Wharf is a centre for arts and cultural activities on the River Thames in London's Docklands.
Trinity Buoy Wharf today
In 1998, Trinity Buoy Wharf was an empty, derelict site. Now it is a place with studios for people in the creative industries, workspace for people who work to provide transportation on the river, classrooms for education, and indoor and outdoor spaces for arts events and a wide range of activities from conferences to product launches. With over 500 people working on the site, in enterprises large and small, established and start-up, mainstream and way-out, Trinity Buoy Wharf has been given a new life.
The brick buildings are the heritage structures that were built to by and for Trinity House, the organisation that designed, built and maintained the navigational equipment, buoys, lighthouses and lightships that kept Britain’s costal water safe. The recent buildings were constructed to house the new creative industries using a simple, efficient and sustainable system based on shipping containers.
London’s Docklands changed dramatically with the move down river that was required by the introduction of the much larger ships. At the same time improved technology changed the business of providing navigational lights and Trinity House moved their workshops away from the Thames.
And, as in all creative enterprises, nothing stands still, things and the people doing them are constantly evolving. The mantra “always complete but never finished” fits Trinity Buoy Wharf today and will tomorrow.
With careful adaption and regeneration, Trinity Buoy Wharf has kept its character whilst offering modern amenities: studio and event space, a pier, two schools, rehearsal rooms, The Orchard Cafe and Fat Boy’s Diner and 40,00 sq ft of new, innovative and sustainable Container City buildings.
Trinity Buoy Wharf Trust
If you really want maintain something for creative people, you have to disconnect it from the general escalating price systems
In 1998 the then owners London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC), set up the Trinity Buoy Wharf Trust with a 125 year lease to hold the land and their vision in trust for the people of London, while the freehold was passed to the LB Tower Hamlets.
The TBW Trust holds a 125 year lease from LB Tower Hamlets and Urban Space Management in turn has a 124 lease from the Trust. The terms provide for 25% of the Wharf's income to be paid to the Trust to use for promoting arts activity in the area. The Trust has supported and funded a wide range of arts projects and organisations. It has received from Urban Space Managment around 10 times the amount that might have been raised by a commercial sale of the site in 1997.
"The Wharf" - a film by Rupert Murray
The Corporation of Trinity House was originally a voluntary association of shipmen and mariners, and was granted a charter by Henry VIII in 1514 as "The Guild or Fraternity of the most glorious and undividable Trinity of St Clement". It received its coat of arms in 1573 and with it the authority to erect and maintain beacons, marks and signs of the sea, "for the better navigation of the coasts of England". Since then it has been the famous company responsible for buoys, lighthouses and lightships and pioneering the techniques involved.
Trinity House had its headquarters in a fine building in the City designed by the great James Wyatt in 1798, and established Trinity Buoy Wharf as its Thames-side workshop in 1803. At first wooden buoys and sea marks were made and stored here, and a mooring was provided for the Trinity House yacht, which was used to lay the buoys and collect them for maintenance and repair. The river wall along the Lea was rebuilt in brick in 1822, making this the oldest surviving structure on the site.
Many new buildings were constructed during the Victorian period, and a number still survive of which the earliest, the Electrician's Building, was built in 1836. It was designed by the then Chief Engineer of Trinity House, James Walker, originally for the storage of oil. He rebuilt the remainder of the river wall in 1852, and the first of two lighthouses here in 1854. On his death in 1862 he was succeeded by James Douglass who designed the lighthouse that still stands today as London's only remaining Lighthouse.
The iconic Experimental Lighthouse, and its neighbour the Chain and Buoy Store were built by Douglass in 1864 and were in constant use to test maritime lighting equipment and train lighthouse keepers. The roof space adjoining the present lighthouse housed the workshop for the famous scientist Michael Faraday.
In 1869, Trinity House set up an engineering establishment at Trinity Buoy Wharf to repair and test the new iron buoys then coming into use. Overcrowding soon became a problem, and in 1875 the works expanded westwards into the neighbouring property, previously Green's Shipyard. By 1910 Trinity Buoy Wharf was a major local employer, with some 150 engineers, platers, riveters, pattern makers, blacksmith, tinsmiths, carpenters, painters, chain testers and labourers working here.
The Wharf continued through the twentieth century to be responsible for supplying and maintaining navigation buoys and lightships between Southwold in Suffolk and Dungeness in Kent. It was modernised and partially rebuilt between 1947 and 1966, and finally closed on 3rd December 1988 when it was purchased by the London Docklands Development Corporation. In 1998 Urban Space Management took the site on a long lease.